Tips For Better Conversations From Celeste Headlee

Spread the love

by Carl Kruse

Apologies for the click-baity title though no click bait here only notes from a Celeste Headlee TED talk in Savannah, Georgia on how to have better conversations.  

I found several nuggets in her presentation, perhaps you might too, which is why I share a summary of her presentation. 

Carl Kruse Dot Com Blog - Celeste Headlee Photo

Celeste Headlee

I’m not sure if she titled her lecture “Tips For Better Conversations” but that stayed with me and here it is.  These notes are slightly edited from the rapid-fire scribbling I originally did – the notes being more for me than anyone else — but as everything here hopefully there is some goodness for you.

Headlee suggests that mastering even one of the below tips dramatically improves your life and relationships.  Could be.

With this preamble let’s dive in.

10 Tips For Better Conversations

1.  Do not multitask when talking with another human being

This is not about fiddling with your iPhone but about your mental state. Be present.  Never half in/half out.  Always be all in with someone else.

(Carl: I like this alot and it brings to mind an old mentor who made it a point of taking off his watch when having a one-on-one meeting with someone. I guess the modern equivalent of turning off your smartphone).

2. Never pontificate

If you want to sermonize write a blog.  Otherwise enter every conversation feeling you can learn something. Set yourself aside when listening, which is putting aside your personal opinion (just for a moment).  As Bill Nye said, “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.” Or said another way, everybody is an expert at something.

(Carl: I like the idea of not pontificating, though I am not sure everyone is an expert at something, even if I like that idea as well and it could be true.)

3. Use open-ended questions

Don’t use yes and no questions when talking with someone. Take a cue from journalism – Who? What? When? Where? Why?  If you ask, “Were you scared?”  The answer might be, “Yeah, I was terrified.”  Instead ask, “What was that like?”  “How did that feel?”  Engage.

4.  Go with the flow and don’t interrupt.

Stories will come to you as you hear the other person speak.  Let those stories come and go. Avoid interjecting that time you met Hugh Jackman in a cafe when someone else tells you about a good café story.  If the chat rambles towards a good place, go with it, and hold back your extraordinary experience that trumps the flow or has nothing to do with where the chat is going. 

5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know

Err on the side of caution.  Talk should not be cheap. Be honest.

6. Don’t equate their experience with yours

If you hear they lost a family member, don’t barge in that you lost one as well.  Ditto with problems at work.  It is never the same.  It is not about you.  You don’t need to prove how amazing you are or how much you have suffered.  Conversations should never be about promotional opportunities.

(Carl: It’s not about you.)

7.  Try not to repeat yourself

It is condescending and boring.  This happens often in work-related discussions.

8. Stay out of the weeds

People don’t care about the years and years and details and details you are trying to unearth. They care about you.  You won’t want to, especially in the heat of the moment, but forget the details.

9.  Listen

The number one most important skill you can have in any conversation.  Buddah said (more or less), “If your mouth is open you are not learning” and Calvin Coolidge advised, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.” Listen.

10.  Be brief.  

A good conversation is like a miniskirt, short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.

Be interested. Be present. Never multitask. 
Keep your mouth shut as much as possible. 
Keep your mind open.  Always be prepared to be amazed.
And you just might never be disappointed with them nor they with you.


Blog Homepage – Carl Kruse

Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com

For a different type of communication check out the post on communing with Titanic’s last message…in Morse Code…here.

And in the same vein of summarizing presentations here are the notes on Internet culture.

Carl Kruse is on TED.

11 thoughts on “Tips For Better Conversations From Celeste Headlee

  1. These are some great tips here Carl, thanks!

    I especially like #1 – don’t multitask when talking with another human being and tip# 9 – LISTEN, which the author apparently believes is the most important skill in any conversation. Both of these tips could be summarized as BEING PRESENT. I like to think of myself as an empathetic, cool person but I remember several instances of people saying I was rude when talking with them. In thinking about it I realized I was just not present during those conversations, which actually is a terribly rude thing to do to someone else. They of course picked up that I was “somewhere else.”

  2. Read the article twice. Quick easy read and a reminder for me not to interrupt as much as I do in a conversation and to go more with the flow. Thanks Kruse.

    1. Oh hey Dr. Gox (any relation to Mt Gox?) thanks for stopping by and the kindness. I used to always — out of excitement I used to think — interrupt conversations all the time. I’ve learned not to do so.


      Carl Kruse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *